Sermon Transcript – Abraham: The Aged Hero

Abraham: The Aged Hero / Genesis 12:1-4; Hebrews 11:8-12, 17-19Heroes Series Part 2 St Paul UMC Fremont | Pastor Sun Hee Kim

Genesis 12:1-4
1 The LORD had said to Abram, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you.
2 “I will make you into a great nation
and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
and you will be a blessing.
3 I will bless those who bless you,
and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
will be blessed through you.”
4 So Abram left, as the LORD had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he set out from Haran.

Hebrews 11:8-12, 17-19
8By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. 9By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. 10For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.
11By faith Abraham, even though he was past age—and Sarah herself was barren—was enabled to become a father because he[a]considered him faithful who had made the promise. 12And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore.

17By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had received the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, 18even though God had said to him, “It is through Isaac that your offspring[b] will be reckoned.”[c] 19Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead, and figuratively speaking, he did receive Isaac back from death.

 BEYOND IMAGINATION
Last week, we began a new sermon series entitled, “Heroes: Ordinary Turned Extraordinary”. And in this series, we’re looking at some of the people that God called into heroic and extraordinary acts of faith.  We’re seeing that when God chooses someone for God’s greater purposes, God always chooses the unexpected, the unlikely, the often times less-than-ordinary candidate. When we read scripture, we’ll actually see that this is God’s modus operandi – this is the pattern of the way that God works. God does not work according to the standards and rules of the world or according to what we expect. God always goes beyond that. It’s like what we read in Ephesians 3:20 that God is “able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us.” The Bible tells us in no uncertain terms that God goes beyond what we expect. God exceeds our requests and surpasses even our imaginations. God is in the business of surprising us.

Last Sunday, we learned about God’s surprising choice and use of Rahab as a hero of God’s Kingdom. Being a woman, a Canaanite and a prostitute made her the unlikeliest of heroes, but God chose her nonetheless, and “by faith” the Bible says, she helped save the lives of the Jewish spies. We also learned about Agnes Bojaxiu, better known as Mother Teresa, who was also quite the unlikely hero. By the world’s standards, she probably would not be given a second glance, but she was chosen and used by God to touch thousands and thousands of people. The ordinary turned extraordinary. Hearing such stories over and over again, you cannot help but seriously consider the possibility that God is calling ordinary people like you and me to do some extraordinary things for the Kingdom of God.

Well, today, we’re going to be looking at another unlikely character of the Bible who was called to an extraordinary act of faith. His name is Abraham (formerly Abram) and what made him such an unlikely hero was his age. He was way beyond what, I think, society would consider the likely age bracket for a hero to actually fall into. I mean consider this for example: Peter Parker became Spider Man when he was in High School and Clark Kent became Superman when he blasted into the earth’s atmosphere as a baby. I think that when people consider the picture of what a hero would look like, they tend to imagine someone who is young and robust and at the prime of his or her life – a Peter Parker or a Clark Kent, if you will. Certainly not someone like Abraham.

The Bible tells us in Genesis 12:4 simply that Abraham was seventy-five years old when God called him. The writer of Hebrews is actually not as kind in talking about Abraham’s age. He says in Hebrews 11:11 that Abraham “was past age” and in 11:12 describes him “as good as dead”. That’s not very nice, is it? Now, personally, I don’t think seventy-five is actually that old, but certainly, it needs to be acknowledged that even by today’s standards, that would have put Abraham already 10 years into retirement and receiving Social Security checks and already twenty years into qualifying for the senior discount at Denny’s.

Age wise, Abraham is an unlikely hero. And the interesting thing here is that there is not much more that is said about Abraham when we first meet him in Scripture. In fact, we get very little description of this man – his intellect, his physical stature, his personality. The Bible is pretty silent on this. All we know by the time we get to Genesis 12 is that Abraham (or Abram as he was called originally) was the son of a guy named Terah and was married to a woman by the name of Sarai. We find out some other family info – he had two brothers (one died) and has a nephew by the name of Lot, which ironically is not a lot. That’s it. Nothing more is said about this guy that God would call to eventually become the “Father of All Nations”. For all we know, Abraham is just another ordinary guy.

Actually, when we read about his lineage in chapter 11 of Genesis, we might infer that he is actually less than ordinary because while all the other men mentioned in his family line “had other sons and daughters”, the Bible says that his wife, Sarai “was barren; she had no children.” By the world’s standards today, and especially by Biblical standards and the standards of his day, Abraham would not have been considered the likely hero – he was just some old guy with no children. Maybe the writer of Hebrews is really not that harsh at all. Maybe for the standards of that time, what is said in Hebrews is actually pretty representative about how people felt back then about a seventy-five year old man who had no children – he was past age and as good as dead. And yet, it’s exactly at this point in his life that God called him to something extraordinary.

THE SURPRISING CALL AND EVEN MORE SURPRISING RESPONSE
This is what we read in Genesis 12:1-3:
The Lord had said to Abram, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you. I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all the peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”

Can you imagine this scene? Now, if I was Abraham, and I was seventy five years old, living in a particular land all my life, minding my own business, doing my thing (whatever that thing may be), and all of a sudden God appears out of nowhere and tells me to move somewhere – to leave everything I have ever known – to go to a place that I have no clue where that might be, I think, maybe, just maybe, my response would be (at minimum), “Huh….?! Say that again, God? You want me to do what?” This is quite the surprising call that is recorded in Scripture, but what’s more surprising is Abraham’s response. The Bible simply says in verse 4, “So Abram left, as the Lord had told him….”

Perhaps age wise, Abram might not be considered the likely hero, but faith wise, he demonstrated one of the most heroic acts possible. Letting go. It reminds me of this story that I heard about a tourist who had traveled out to see the Grand Canyon, and in his amazement at the grandeur of the sight, moved too close to the edge of a particular cliff, accidentally losing his footing and plunging over the side. As he began to fall, he started clawing and scratching for everything and anything he could so as to save himself. And finally, after descending almost out of sight, he was able to desperately grab hold of a scrubby bush that was growing off the side.

At this point, filled with terror and hanging on with both hands for dear life, he called out toward heaven, asking, “Help! Is there anyone up there?!” To his relief and surprise, a calm, powerful voice came out of the sky responding, “Why yes. Yes there is.” The tourist then began to plead, “Well, can you help me? I desperately need some help here!” The calm voice replied, “Yes. Yes, I probably can. What seems to be the problem?”

And the man cried out, “I fell over the cliff and I’m dangling in space holding on to a bush that is about to give. Please, please help me!” And the voice from above said, “Well, I’ll try. But, do you believe?” “Yes, yes! I believe!” said the man. “Well, do you have faith?” “Yes, yes! I have faith. I have very strong faith. Please hurry!” the man cried. The calm voice, then finally replied, “Well, in that case, simply let go of the bush and everything will turn out fine.”

After a very tense and silent pause, the tourist yelled out, “Is there anyone else up there?”

For most of us, we’re just like this man on the cliff. We have a very difficult time letting go. We are holding on to everything and anything, gripping onto what we know and what we want with tight, white-knuckled fists. And the irony, of course, is that the tighter we grip, the less our hands can actually hold. I can totally imagine that when God called Abraham, Abraham saying yes as he looks towards heaven, opening up his hands in an extraordinary act of faith. Abraham lets go, and lets God start doing God’s work in him. And especially at the age of seventy-five, friends, to let go is no small affair. But that’s exactly what Abraham did, and that’s exactly what made him a hero.

I find it quite amazing that this once less-than-ordinary seventy-five year old man is referenced so often in Scripture. First of all, nearly one fourth of Genesis is devoted to this man’s life, and over 40 Old Testament references in all are made to Abraham. And it is interesting to note that even Islam holds Abraham second in importance only to Mohammed, with the Koran referring to Abraham 188 times. But back to our own Bibles, if we look in the New Testament, we will see that the New Testament in no way diminishes the significance of the life and character of Abraham containing within it nearly 75 references to him in all. And perhaps the most important reference coming from that section of Hebrews that we read today, a section that I referred to last week as the “Faith Hall of Fame.” This is what we read:

11By faith Abraham, even though he was past age—and Sarah herself was barren—was enabled to become a father because he[a]considered him faithful who had made the promise. 12And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore.

Because Abraham said yes to God, because Abraham opened his hands and let go, because Abraham was willing to leave behind his ordinary life for what in faith he knew would be an extraordinary journey, he became the Father of All Nations and became a hero in the Kingdom of God.

BRINGING IT CLOSER TO HOME
I love this story of Abraham because, frankly, I think it speaks volumes to us here at St Paul. Let’s face it, we’re not necessarily a young congregation. And I won’t go as far as the writer of Hebrews to say that we’re “past age” or “as good as dead”, which I’m sure you all appreciate very much. But the truth of the matter is that I think many of us have succumbed to the current society’s not so high view of the older generation. We live in a world and culture that prizes the potential and power of the youth. Women go out and pay big money on things like  “Age Defying Skin Creams” and “Wrinkle Removers”, while men consider finally calling that 1-800 number to join the “Hair Club for Men.” Bottom line, we all not only want to look younger. We want to be younger.

But here’s the thing.  The Bible in essence is telling us today, that if God can take seventy-five year old Abraham and make him into the Father of Nations, God can certainly take any of us at any age and cause us to do some extraordinary things in the name of God. And the truth is that God is calling us today, like he called Abram many, many years ago. As people of God, God is calling us to rise up above the ordinariness of our lives to experience something beyond what we can possibly ask or imagine – immeasurable things – things that go beyond age and things that go beyond the limits of this world. God is calling us to be heroes and make a difference while we still can. And friends, we… still… can. Amen?

There’s this familiar line in the Spider Man series, and you may know this, but it goes like this:  “With great power comes great responsibility.” And that’s a good line, but I think in the Kingdom of God, it would actually be more accurate to say this:  “With great responsibility, comes great power.” You see, God has placed before each and every one of us great responsibility, but the promise is that if we say yes to that responsibility, it will be followed by the promise of the great power of God that will be at work within us.

Each and every week, I am just blown away by the amazing faithful and heroic acts of some of the members in our congregation, here at St Paul. I see the Abraham’s and the Sarah’s rise to the occasion and continue to serve and continue to say yes to God and continue to let go with open hands and experience God’s power at work within them. And so I know and I am absolutely confident that though we might not be a completely young congregation, we are certainly not past age and we are certainly not as good as dead. We are yet alive. And we are yet available for God to use us. And the good news is that we worship and serve an amazingly powerful God who can do immeasurably more than we can ask or imagine. And of course, the bad news is that God ain’t done with you yet. God is calling you and expecting you to rise up and do something – live with extraordinary power and faithfully respond to that extraordinary responsibility. Young or old, I hope you believe this, and today, that you open up your hands and your hearts and say yes to God. Amen?

For Heroes…
The month of May was good. Busy, but good. I had an amazing opportunity to preach with my colleague Debbie Weatherspoon at the OpenCircle Young Adult worship called SHE. It was an amazing time of honoring and celebrating the women in our lives who have touched us and affected us. And now, we are already in the month of June, and my mind and my heart shifts from SHE to HE. Like many of you, I am in the process of picking out a card for my dad, and all of a sudden a flood of fond memories fill my mind.
When I was real little, I was called a “hand baby” because I absolutely LOVED to hold my father’s hand. In fact, I used to fall asleep putting my face against on one of his hands. I remember then that his hand was warm, thick and big. And then, I remember the time when I was first aware of his hand actually being average in size, and how that realization made me feel a bit sad. But mostly, I felt safe and sound within his presence.
I remember him coming home from work everyday at 5:00 pm on the dot. I didn’t realize fully then, but he made and unfailingly kept this commitment to come home after work right away from his teaching job. Unlike many men of his age at the time, he made sure he spent dinner time with us. Although his job made this more doable, the culture and business standards for men at that time in Korea would require him to hang out with friends. Many times, a man’s success would depend on this kind of socializing. However, having dinner and spending time with family was top priority for him, and it was rooted in his commitment to God. I know my father’s faith motivated him to do the best he could – to be a faithful, supportive and caring father.
It could have been that I might not actually know the full extent about his commitment and his sacrifice much later in life, but I know how it felt to me then. I remember my dad being around us a lot, and those precious memories I still cherish. And everyday, when he would come home, my father always brought us a little snack, such as a carton of vanilla ice cream. Not surprisingly, my brother, sister and I were always looking forward to 5:00 pm!
We didn’t have much growing up but I never felt that we “lacked” much of anything. His presence, his faith, and his loving effort to provide helped us to be well in many ways. My father may not have been the most vocal person either, but he always spoke the most supportive and wise things when it counted. I am so grateful that when I call God “Father”, I have all of these amazing and loving images given to me from my earthly father. What a blessing that is, indeed!
It might be cliché to say this but I want to say to my dad, “Thank you! You are my hero.”
My dad might be an ordinary man, but he is a true hero who has lived his life in an extraordinary way, making an extraordinary impact to my brother, my sister and me. It is even more meaningful to me that his life and everything that he did was truly motivated by his faith. Without him and his encouragement, I know I wouldn’t be standing here today.
The Bible is full of stories that tell of God’s amazing ways in which the ordinary is transformed into the extraordinary. In this meaningful month of June, while we are remembering the heroes in our lives, it is going to be my joy and honor to start a new preaching series entitled, “Heroes: The Ordinary Turned Extraordinary”. This sermon series will begin on June 24th and in it, we will be exploring some characters of the Bible who for all practical purposes would have fit the expected bill for God’s chosen servant. But as the saying goes, “God does not choose the qualified, but qualifies the chosen.” This series will be about the ordinary people whom God chooses to become the heroes who end up doing extraordinary things.
I hope you join us in this journey of remembering heroes, heroes of the Bible as well as some of the faith heroes in our very own lives. We will all be inspired and encouraged to live the extraordinary life and to make an extraordinary impact for someone else.
Expecting A Heroic Month of Ministry Together,
Pastor Sun Hee

“Heroes: The Ordinary Turned Extraordinary” Sermon Series
June 24: Rahab, July 1: Abraham, July 8: Esther, July 15: Ruth, July 22: Joseph, July 29: Caleb

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